The Speckled Dog Inn
Just north of the city of Laredo, not a mile from the Mexican border, lies the Laredo airport. This airport had an official name, but I never could remember what it was. Neither could anybody else. For years it had simply been "The Laredo Airport".
When the city took over Laredo Air Force Base on the east side of town, and renamed it The Laredo International Airport, the little airport north of town became known as "The Old Laredo Airport."
For some reason that I never understood, the Air Force had also maintained a small training facility on the old airport. After this building was no longer in use, Bob managed to get a long-term lease on it. It was located directly across the ramp from his hangar and was about 30 feet wide by 100 feet long. About half of this building was a big open classroom. The rest contained a storeroom, several small office rooms, a briefing room, and a large bathroom with a half-dozen sinks, commodes, and shower stalls.
The big classroom proved to be a great place for Bob to store all his aircraft parts, junk, wing panels, rudders, engines, and other components of aircraft that had been crashed or salvaged. The briefing room served as an excellent place for bull sessions and an occasional unplanned party. The storage room continued to be a storage room.
But there was still a lot of space left over. Not long after I showed up at Laredo, Bob gave me a "sub-lease" on one of the small rooms that had once served as an office. It was agreed that I would pay him one dollar per year for this room. Actually, I never paid him anything.
Bob used this fact to good effect. Anytime I was giving him a hard time about something, he would holler at me, "Yeah? Well, how about them two dollars you owe me?" And when he wanted to needle me about something, he would yell at me across the airport, "Hey! When the hell you gonna pay me my five dollars?"
I set-up that room with a carpet on the floor, a bed on one side, a three-drawer dresser against one wall, and a used refrigerator in the corner. A 3/4 inch galvanized pipe served as a clothes hanger. I put a hasp on the door, and a padlock on the hasp. It was nothing fancy, but then, I was nothing fancy either. It suited me just fine. Who was to know when a man might need a little place to hold up in?
The flying community at the Old Laredo Airport was alive with all sorts of characters engaged in all sorts of activity. The Old Laredo Airport was something of a magnet for pilots from every walk of life. It beckoned to those disillusioned by life, disappointed in love, bankrupt in business, or hungry for a fresh start in a fresh world. It was a meeting point for furloughed airline pilots, old freight-hailers who could no longer pass their flying physical, old military pilots who had been successful in war, but failures in peace, and burned-out adventurers with nothing left to lose.
Around the world, the aviation underground whispered with rumors that Laredo, Texas, was a place where a man could find a few friends, a new start, and one last chance at fortune. Over the years, other crop-duster pilots, old war buddies, friends going through bad divorces, and various other travelers through aviation's strange underground railroad, made temporary homes in one of the little rooms in that old building.
Those little rooms had once been offices for U.S. Air Force officers. Strangely enough, many of the men who passed through those little rooms had themselves once been U.S. Air Force officers.
This building was initially known as the BOQ, military nomenclature for Bachelor Officers Quarters, but the name that would endure was assigned to it by an old pilot who lived in the room next to mine one long cold winter. Long ago this man had gone down in Manilla Bay, and spent three years in a Japanese concentration camp. For reasons he never explained to me, he called it "The Speckled Dog Inn".
I was the only man who had a full-time room in The Speckled Dog Inn. I was the only guy who had a long-term lease. I seldom lived there more than 30 days at a stretch. Sometimes I would live there for only a few days between seasons. Sometimes I would stay overnight, and then move on. But I always maintained my room at The Speckled Dog Inn.
This little cave served as a safe corner to which I could retreat during those times in which I needed a corner in which to retreat.
The Speckled Dog Inn, at the Old Laredo Airport, became a landmark in my wanderings over the next several years.